"Simulation can be stimulation."
Those were the words of Alexander Dalin, a Stanford University professor of political science and history, in his opening speech for the Model United Nations conference last November in Palo Alto.
Model United Nations conferences feature student delegations from high schools and colleges--each representing a different country--trying to discuss, debate and resolve such world situations as human rights, global conflicts and the uses of outer space.
In other words, a student simulation of what the United Nations is all about.
"Model U.N. has increased many students' awareness of the need for world cooperation and the ever-increasing global interdependence we find ourselves in both economically and politically," said Rome Friesen, international relations teacher and Model United Nations adviser at Laguna Beach High School. "And the need to compromise in solving our differences if the world community is to live into the next century."
Friesen and 28 Laguna Beach students made a 9-hour, 350-mile trek up the coast of California to attend the Stanford conference, one of 50 such meetings held throughout the school year and around the globe.
Model United Nations, which was begun in 1954 at Harvard University, is merely an updated version of the 1930s simulations based on the League of Nations.
Months before each conference, participating schools are assigned the countries their students will represent as well as the areas of discussion, which can vary from meeting to meeting.
Upon its arrival, the Laguna Beach delegation was impressed by the beauty of the Stanford campus as it made its way to Kresge Auditorium to check in. There, the students were given placards and name tags identifying them by the names of the countries they represented--the Soviet Union, El Salvador, Iran, etc. Also, each tag had a different colored dot on it, signifying different committee assignments.
As the students entered the auditorium, they came face to face for the first time with the delegates from the competing high schools. Feelings of anticipation, apprehension and excitement filled the air. Most were probably wondering if their months of preparation for this weekend would be enough.
Prof. Dalin opened the conference with a speech on the international perspective, both past and present, of the Soviet Union.
"I am delighted to be part of this program," said Dalin at the beginning of his speech. "I applaud your involvement in Model United Nations."
A roll call followed and a quorum was established with the presence of 27 nations, represented by 17 California high schools and a total of 280 delegates. Laguna Beach and Mission Viejo high schools were the only Orange County participants.
After roll call, the delegations broke into separate committee meetings in classrooms throughout the campus. The goal of each committee was to come up with an agreeable solution--in the form of a committee-written resolution--to its conflicts.
"In Model U.N., we hope to enrich everyone's knowledge of world history and the way people interact," said Flavio Salinas, a Stanford student who was vice chairman for the "Crisis in Central America and Angola" committee. "We hope to sharpen participants' debating skills and make them into good listeners."
Committee rules were quite formal. Each delegate had a list of the various motions, their rules, rule numbers, their purposes, and the number of votes required to pass each.
Delegates were allowed only 3 minutes to make a speech and 30 seconds for a comment on a speech.
Salinas and the chairman evaluated their committee's work to determine the recipient of the Gavel Award, presented at the close of the convention to the best delegates in each committee. It was at this time that the term gavel hunters was first mentioned. These were students, according to Annie McQuade, a senior delegate from Laguna Beach, who participated in Model U.N. conferences solely for the purpose of winning the Gavel Award.
"These are the students that prepare for many months, but don't prepare to solve the problem," she explained. "If you want to solve the problem, you don't come with resolutions, you come and work on it together with other countries. They (gavel hunters) try to dominate the whole committee."
These students often refused to compromise their country's stands for fear they might jeopardize the final resolutions and their chances of winning the award.
After several speeches had been made, which were followed by a seemingly endless number of comments, it was caucus time.
A caucus is a timed break during which delegates could informally discuss proposed courses of action with delegates from allied countries. It's also a time when opposing countries could work out compromises.
And so the evening went--speeches, comments and caucuses--until 11:30, when the committee finally adjourned.